Helpers and Level 1 Coaching Guide

Produced by Helen Shilton (Level 3 coach) from personal notes for Team Kennet helpers attending  their Level 1 course in January 2009


This guide is intended to help new coaches / helpers gain a better understanding of how to coach athletics at grass roots level. There is no one definitive way and therefore it is you, your personality and who you’re coaching, that will determine the style in which you coach.

Your Roles and Responsibility

Taking part in any sport or activity can make a huge positive difference to peoples’ lives. It can build self esteem, self worth, sportsmanship and motivation. All of these qualities can be transferred to all aspects of our lives. More importantly for children, is that we make it fun so they can develop all of these qualities in a safe environment.

Sport can also have a negative effect on participants. Low self esteem or even a niggling injury can deter individuals from participating. It is very easy, when coaching a large group, not to notice the child at the back that’s not joining in. As a coach we are all responsible for keeping the activities as inclusive as possible so that everyone has a chance to be good at something. Praise is especially important particularly for children who struggle physically with that event. We all develop and learn at different rates.

We are all responsible for encouraging the athletes regardless of the age or ability and each individual should be respected for the own development and performance.

To get the best out of the athletes, try to smile, it gives them and you confidence in what you’re coaching (even if it’s your first coaching session). It also creates a fun and receptive coaching environment. If the event or session is presented as fun, then the junior athletes will normally have a go and will do so willingly, you and the athlete will get more out of the session. They might even want to try the event again!

Coaches and helpers are also responsible for ensuring high standards and good sportsmanship. This means you should promoted and reward honesty, sportsmanship and respect for ‘officials’ decisions whatever your personal opinion. We should encourage and support cooperation with other athletes from other events or sports and encourage the athletes to keep trying even if they are struggling.

As coaches we are responsible for developing the fitness and skills of our athletes. This is about teaching and training and will constitute the largest part of your role.

  • Having the knowledge, skills and patience to help others learn and develop their skills at the right pace and at the right time.

  • Encourage the overall development of the athlete: physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually.

  • Develop your own technical knowledge and keep it up to date.

  • Develop your knowledge of health and fitness, training principless and understanding and implementing training programmes that are appropriate for the athletes age, sex, experience and ability.

The development of your own skills can seem an impossible task, but you will have the full support of the other coaches around you and this is an ongoing project. It is best if you work with as many coaches and as many disciplines as you can and share your ideas and knowledge with them. You will need to look at your own style of coaching and perhaps adapt it to suit the needs of the athletes, this is commonly called self analysis. Having an open mind to new ideas and different training methods, you can very quickly build a portfolio of coaching and training tools to use with different athletes.

There are no short cuts to coaching, some is common sense, some is trial and error but most is sharing ideas, communicating with athletes, parents and coaches and enjoying the shared experience in a fun and safe environment.


This is probably the most important bit in the guide. We all have a responsibility of keeping everyone safe in the environment in which the session is taking place. It’s not just the safety of the children, but of the other coaches / helpers and spectators. Setting up the equipment always becomes a race against time, but please, always check and double check the equipment is safe for the purpose of use. Re-check the equipment throughout the session and if necessary stop the activity if you feel the activity or the equipment becomes unsafe. Sometimes the behaviour of junior athletes deems the environment to be unsafe. Unfortunately, sit- out or quiet time, is necessary to keep the other participants and yourself safe.

The Coaching Process

The following headers are intended as prompts for when you start to coach your own session.


  • Assess the athletes needs

  • Set goals for the session

  • Plan session content or organisation (L1 assists L2)

  • Prepare for session.


  • Prepare the athletes for the session (inc. warm up)

  • Provides explanation / instruction

  • Provide demonstration (accurate)

  • Observe Analyse and Feedback

  • Conclude the session (inc. warm down)


  • Assess the session goals

  • Assess own coaching – self analysis


Effective communication involves a two way process of giving and receiving information. As a coach we need to be efficient and effective, in other words, plan what you’re going to say and keep it simple.

Most coaches are good at ‘telling’ and giving instruction, this is the easiest and quickest way of getting a task done. The ‘telling’ way is often used when working with junior athletes or when there is a safety issue. However, ‘telling’ can be misunderstood and limits the athletes ability to make their own decisions, its also really boring as the athletes have been told what to do all day at school. Are there other ways you could get your instructions across?

‘Telling’ as a communication tool is important but always remember to;

  • Plan what you’re going to say

  • Gain group’s attention before you start.

  • Keep the content simple

  • Check for understanding

Watch, listen, think then speak are the four key skills a coach needs to develop. The first three are three are probably the hardest skills to master, so be patient with yourself.

Watch -The majority of communicated information is non-verbal and this to is two way. You’ll learn so much more about the athletes through their facial expressions and body language than just speaking to them.

Listen – You still need to talk to your athletes, not just about athletics and training, but, how’s school? what other sports are they into? Find out what they already know and can do? Use open questions, how, why, when, what, etc. By questioning you may find that the athlete already has the skills, but needs help developing another area. Always listen to the answer, try not to assume and think before you speak.


Demonstrations play an important part in the learning process, but to be effective they need to be accurate. Demonstrations should be used when you need a visual picture to illustrate a new movement skill. The term ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ is correct providing the demonstration is correct.

It is a powerful tool especially when coaching junior athletes what the whole movement should look like. They simply copy the demonstrator. As the coach, you don’t have to give the demonstration, use someone who can, another athlete is always a great idea as it boosts the confidence of the demonstrator and also gives the junior athletes something to aspire to.

Like everything else in coaching you have to plan the demonstration, think about what you want to get across to the athletes and the best place for them to view the demo.

  • Position the demonstration so the athletes are not distracted (sun, or other athletes).

  • Gain the athletes attention before starting the demonstration and focus their attention on 1 or 2 points only.

  • Show the action required, repeating several times and changing the angle of view if necessary.

  • Invite and answer questions – check for understanding

Observing and Analysing Performance

This is a key element of coaching and is a core skill for the coach. Over time and with practice you will become very good at observing and analysing technique, be patient. The skill can be developed quicker if you become systematic in your approach.

To analyse a movement effectively, you must firstly know what you are looking for. Then focus on that part of the athletes movement. Break the movement down into phases, for example;

  • Preparation – This might include the body or limb position at the start of a discus throw

  • Action – that describes the force producing the action to release the discus.

  • Recovery – that follows the force producing the action, follow through or reverse, direction of momentum, etc.

Sometimes is becomes easier if you focus on one aspect of the movement and you’ll need to observe several times and from different view points to be able to analyse the movement effectively. Try not to give feedback at this stage, this is observation and analysis.

Working with more experienced coaches will help build the technical templates for the events you’ll be coaching, observing and analysing what you see will become easier, but more often than not you will offer verbal feedback before you should.

  • Break down the action

  • Observe several times and from different view points

  • Compare what you saw with the technical template

  • Decide what, if any, adjustments to make, plus how this should be done.

When deciding what adjustments should be made, praise the athlete suggest, how they could do it better, demonstrate if necessary, then more praise and let them have a go. Junior athletes can become very frustrated with the more technical events, jumps and throws, as some are still simply too small to do the full movement. Encouragement and support with the emphasis on ‘have a go and keep it fun’ is essential at this stage. Athletics is a ‘Long Term Development Sport’ so many athletes will only master an event many years later.


To develop new skills the athlete will require relevant, constructive and positive feedback. This can be obtained in 3 main methods

  • Visual information – the athlete can see the flight of the discus and can compare it to their technical template.

  • Auditory Information – The athlete can listen to the rhythm of their feet against the track or turning circle.

  • Sensory Information – the athlete might be able to gain accurate information from their body position, joints and muscles, where their trailing leg was over the hurdle, where their elbow was in the moments before releasing the javelin etc.

As the athlete becomes more experienced, they begin to recognise what the correct movement feels like. As a coach this is one of the best tools in your portfolio for helping to develop your athletes. Instead of ‘telling’ (extrinsic feedback), the athlete what they did wrong and how to correct it, try using their own intrinsic feedback (what they felt, saw, heard) and get the athlete make the adjustments to fit the technical model. You will need to develop a questioning technique that prises the information out of the athlete. Use a scaling system to get the athlete to gauge their own body position, were they high =1 or low =5 at the point of release. Ask, ‘how are you going to get from 3 to 5 then? Let the athlete take control over their skill development.

With any feedback it is important to remember to;

  • Ask questions of the athlete first to encourage self analysis

  • Limit the information you provide to 1 -2 points ONLY and give the information in a form that they will understand. Keep it simple and to the point.

  • Be specific, eg. ‘Good’ gives no information at all. You need to follow up with what was good and why.

  • Positive expression. Try to sandwich any criticism between 2 positive statements.

You may find it very hard not to give feedback on every throw, jump, or rep. Sometimes the athlete expects it and looks to you to get some verbal expression. During warm- ups try not to give any feed back at all and once into the session give the athlete a chance to make the physical changes before providing feedback again.

Performance Factors

What factors influence performance and are athletes born or formed? There are of course many factors that influence the development of any athlete or sportsman and genetics does have a part to play. Every one is born with certain physical potentials, for example, a male high jumper less than 6 foot in height is less likely to achieve international success. A sprinter or thrower is likely to have been born with a higher proportion of ‘fast twitch’ muscle fibres that are required for speed. Athletes will develop more effectively if they train and the main areas that we need to be aware of are;

  • Technical – movement skills especially in sprints and field events.

  • Physical – factors such as fitness, strength, speed, flexibility, diet and hydration, body shape, injury and climate all have a major influence on your athlete’s development.

  • Psychological – or mental factors such as concentration and confidence can influence the outcome of competition events. Injury and how the athlete copes with it can also be a challenge.
  • Tactical – what to do and when to do it. Each event will have very different tactical challenges for the athletes to overcome. Preparation and planning will give the athlete confidence to make the decision on the day.

Training the body

The body is like an engine, it needs fuel (food) to produce energy that enables the body to move. In order to develop an efficient engine and produce optimal movement it is important to;

  • Have sufficient energy stores, which means eating correct amounts of the right foods, (carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals).

  • Train the heart and lungs to be able to make the cardio respiratory system more efficient serving the muscles with oxygenated blood and removing waste products.

  • Train and maintain the muscles, tendons and joints to work optimally.

Fitness is not a simple single concept. There are a number of components that make up a fitness programme, the main components are;

  • Endurance – this is needed to sustain optimal movement correctly over a period of time and to recover efficiently from the training demands swiftly.
  • Strength – enables the athlete to produce forceful movements seen on the track and in the field. (Sprints, jumps and throws). Strength endurance is required to perform these activities repeatedly without tiring.

  • Speed – simply how quickly the athlete can move his body or limb. This can be increased with strength training.

  • Flexibility – is important so the athlete can exert force through a full range of movement, to optimise the explosive movement and to avoid injury.

  • Coordination – enable the athlete to carry out complicated movements quickly, efficiently and effectively. Moving more than one part of his body at the same time.

Depending on which event your athlete is training for will depend on how you prioritise the 5 components in the training schedule. For example, an long distance runner 10km + will need greater endurance training than a shot putter, equally the shot putter will concentrate more on strength training than endurance. However, all of the 5 components will make up their physical training programmes and you should be aware of their importance.

Training Principles

To train your athlete effectively you firstly need to know what their physical condition is to start with. Once you have a basic bench mark you create a specific training programme that will make the athlete work a little bit harder. We call this ‘overload and adapt’. For example; If you were to run for 10 mins every day for 2 weeks, the 10min run would perhaps be hard at first (overload) and becomes easier over time (adapt). This is your body becoming adapted to the exercise you’re asking it to do. It is exactly the same for the athletes. It is important to remember that the body needs time to recover to make the overload effective and it needs to be a gradual process, or progressive overload. The 3 main headings to remember are;

  • Overload – increase the training load

  • Adapt – body gets use to the new increased load

  • Recovery – allow the body to rest for the process to work.

To help the coach build the overload into the training programme you can use the FIT factors.

  • F – Frequency (how many sessions or repetitions)

  • I – Intensity (how close to maximum effort)

  • T- Training time (duration, how many times and for how long)

Planning and evaluating

Good planning, organisation and evaluation are essential in everyday life and it’s no different in coaching. It can at first seem that the task is too great, you feel you don’t know enough technically to perform as a coach, but if you set yourself smaller achievable goals the task will them become manageable. As a coach we use evaluation as a learning tool, enabling use to look at what went well with the session and what you would do differently next time. It also gives you a chance to look at how you coached, were you ‘telling’ too much or were we too athlete centred?

At this stage of your coaching career you would not be required to plan a session for athletes, but you do need a good understanding of the process and how to deliver the session with another L2 coach.

Session Planning

Every training session should have a goal and you build the training around how to achieve the goal. Each session should include 5 components;

  • Warm Up – get the body and mind ready for the session

  • Technical – Specific movement skills eg. Foot strike or turning practices.

  • Physical – Strength, speed, endurance etc.

  • Competitive – set a task based on the technical/ skill / physical components.

  • Cool down – Jog, static stretches etc. Evaluate, did you achieve the goal, was it fun, evaluate your own performance.

I have included an example session planner that I have made to fit my coaching requirements, feel free to tweak it further to fit your session requirements. This is a really useful tool to refer to especially when you first start. You don’t then have to remember everything, it takes the pressure off you so you can coach effectively .

I hope this has given you an insight into what your Level 1 course might contain, this really is a summary of what you will cover. The Level 1 course will also include your Technical Event Groups and Child Protection and Welfare. If you have any questions, please ask any of the coaches, I’m sure anyone of us would be delighted to help.

Best of Luck and don’t eat the elephant whole!